Just like living with your best friend is unwise, so too is starting a business together if you haven’t first made some serious considerations. As women who’ve been there and done that, Shilpa Iyengar and Harmony Pilobello were our top choice for enlightening us on the issue. After meeting as students at Parsons School of Design in New York City, they joined forces to launch Alterre, an eco-chic range of shoes you can customise by swapping out the straps or base.
According to Shilpa and Harmony, here’s what makes it work.
A common thread (and a certain craziness)
SI: We were in the same digital fashion class and had an assignment where we had to create a print. I had used the local Greenwood Cemetery as inspiration and [Harmony] saw my work and immediately said, “I love that place! I live right across from there.” There aren’t a lot of people who find beauty in the macabre, so I think I knew we had the same ideas about life from that day on. Apart from our peculiar similar interests, though, the more I got to know Harmony’s work, the more I respected her aesthetic vision and her thoughtfulness in design.
Genuine respect for the other
SI: I loved [Harmony’s] work ethic, which bordered on obsession at times. I knew that she would stick to her beliefs and work tirelessly to make it happen, which I believe is the most important characteristic to have as an entrepreneur. She also is a dreamer and overall optimist who wants to create solutions to problems she sees in the world, so it’s inspiring to have someone like that be your partner. On top of that, we both had strong academic backgrounds before going into the arts, so it was perfect to have someone I could trust with discussing both the business and design aspects of any project and know that she could be an equal partner.
I love that we can talk as friends when work hours are over. It gives both of us a sense of freedom and fearlessness, because we know that our friendship is not at stake.
Find someone who does what you can’t
HP: I feel really lucky to have met someone who entirely complements my way of working and thinking. She has all the qualities I don’t and it’s awesome! She is great at remembering various deadlines and keeping us on track for the big picture. She also doesn’t buckle easily under pressure and knows how to stand strong when people try to take advantage of us. One increasingly huge thing for me is also knowing that we can both separate our friendship from business. I love that we can talk as friends when work hours are over and any stress from the office is left behind. It gives both of us a sense of freedom and fearlessness, because we know that our friendship is not at stake. In other words, we work efficiently together without taking criticism to heart.
Model your brand on one you both admire
SI: We both really look up to Patagonia as a type of business we would want to be like. They started with a core idea of sustainable, quality-made products that shows us that if you stick to your core values, that eventually the product will speak for itself; that having a solid foundation takes many years to build but can stand the test of time. Patagonia is also great at engaging and taking care of both their customers and employees. We would want our business to have the same sort of loyalty and dedication to the brand found there.